Ruthless Rulers of History

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Throughout history, from ancient to modern times, the world has known numerous rulers who have become infamous for what they had done. The following are five men and five women rulers belonging to historical periods ranging from classical antiquity up t

Herod the Great

Herod the Great was a pro-Roman king of Judea (74 B.C.-4 B.C.), who was infamous for murdering his own family members including his sons, whom he perceived as threats to his rule. Moreover, he was best known from the account given in the Gospel of Matthew, which relates the series of events that pushed him to give orders to kill all two-year old and under boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, an event that became known as the "Massacre of the Innocents."


As king of the Scythian hordes known as the Huns, Attila led his armies conquering much of Europe, plundering and destroying every barbaric civilization along its path with unparalleled ferocity, triggering massive migration of fleeing refugees, thereby hastening the fall of the Roman Empire. This 5th century Hun warrior became known as the "the Scourge of God" for his cruelty, and for the terror and massive devastation he brought upon the Roman Empire.

Qin Shi Huang

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Qin dynasty's founder and first emperor of unified China (247 B.C.-210 B.C.), Qin Shi Huang was hated by all his subjects for his notorious brutality. He was ready to kill anyone who dared to oppose him and his ideas by burying them alive. To prevent any rebellion, he kept the people uneducated by burning all books, suppressing freedom of thought. Qin is also known for his extravagance even in death as he found buried in his mausoleum with thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers, unearthed in Xi'an (Shaanxi province) in 1974.


Jezebel was the biblical queen and wife of the equally evil King Ahab of Israel. She attempted to overthrow all Jehovah worship in Israel and to murder all prophets of God; she also introduced the worship of Baal, and had a temple built to support hundreds of its prophets, who were eventually slain after a confrontation on Mount Carmel upon the orders of Elijah, her most hated enemy. Her name has gone down in history as a general term for wicked women.


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Tomyris, the fierce warrior queen of the warlike nation of Massagetai, challenged Cyrus, king of the Persians, that if he would return her son unharmed, whom he had taken hostage in a prior encounter, he could annex her territory under his dominion, otherwise he would receive his fill of blood. She made good her word when she crushed the Persian army in 529 B.C. by dipping slain Cyrus' head into a skin filled with human blood.


To fulfill her patriotic ambitions, Cleopatra fully utilized her charm and cunningness by allying herself with the two most powerful men of her time: Julius Caesar, who strengthened her claim to the throne and with whom she had a son, Caesarion; and Marc Antony, with whom their relationship evolved into one of the most passionate romances of all time. This manipulative Egyptian queen (69 B.C.-30 B.C.) has come to personify the mysterious Egyptian sensual ideal.


(Chilperic I and Fredegund) Image source

Fredegund was a servant, who rose to become the mistress of the Merovingian Frankish king Chilperic I of Soissons, whom she persuaded to have his first wife Galswintha killed, resulting in a 40-year family feud with the eastern kingdom of Austrasia ruled by Sigebert I, Chilperic's half-brother and Brunhilda, Galswintha's sister. This sadistic and bloody queen (c. 550-597) was also responsible for the murder of Sigebert I and attempts on the life of Brunhilda.


In retaliation against the Romans who maltreated her and ravished her daughters, Boudicca led a revolt that became notorious for the bloodshed and devastation that followed, pushing the Romans into London, which was subsequently burned to the ground with at least 70,000 Romans killed with cruel tortures. This courageous queen (c. 26-61 A.D.) of the Iceni tribe is regarded as one of Britain's greatest heroines.


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Known for his eccentricity, cruelty and immorality, Caligula humiliated the Senate by appointing his beloved stallion, Incitatus, as Consul; engaged in incestuous relationship with his sister, Drusilla, and had her disembowelled when she got pregnant; and declared himself a living god and demanded that he should be worshipped as such. Born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, this mad Roman emperor (A.D. 12-41), whose nickname means "little boot," went down in history as Rome's most despotic emperor.


After eliminating his two brothers who initially shared his power, Polycrates, who established Samian naval supremacy, became notorious for piracy, as he continued to use his fleet to capture neighboring island territories in the Aegean Sea. On the other hand, this strong 6th century B.C. tyrant of Samos brought political and economic prominence to his domain through public works such as aqueducts, temples and palaces; and he also did much to encourage the arts.

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Kimberly Martin
Posted on Apr 30, 2012
Kathleen Murphy
Posted on Apr 24, 2012